Autism Awareness
Every Child on the Spectrum is Unique – Occupational Therapy Should Be, Too
Every Child on the Spectrum is Unique – Occupational Therapy Should Be, Too 1000 1000 PTN Chicago

Not too long ago, we as a society used to think of children as being autistic or not, disabled or not. Today, our way of thinking about autism has come a long way, and we now speak in terms of “the spectrum.” Plenty of very highly functioning people are somewhere on the spectrum, which has helped reduce the stigma around autism and improved awareness about what autism spectrum disorder can look like and who can be affected by it.

At PTN, we see every child as an individual. Being on the spectrum is neither a blessing nor a curse – it simply is – and we are eager to meet every child where they are, help them see their unique strengths and abilities, and create a plan  that will help them face the world with more confidence and joy.

In some cases, intensive therapeutic protocols are appropriate, but when possible, we prefer to utilize the least restrictive approach that provides maximum therapeutic benefit. A big part of doing that is not separating out children we work with and making them feel “other,” but instead working with them in the environments where they are most comfortable – they’re home, school, or local playground.

By creating treatment plans specifically designed for each individual child in the places they love most, we’re better able to help those children build life-long skills. Working in these sorts of familiar spaces also makes it easier for parents, siblings, and other care-takers to get involved and learn how they can be the best possible support or friend to your child.

In terms of specific therapies, every session is different, because every child is different. Our occupational therapists utilize a play-based approach, because play is how we learn best, and that’s true for our whole lives. Games and interactive activities should be  flexible and fun, never rigid. Through play, our therapists can help build skills like listening, following directions, social awareness, coordination, strength, speech, and much more. In designing specific sessions, our occupational therapists can talk to parents and observe children engaging in their daily routines to see where they’re already doing well and where they might need additional support.  .

To learn more, please give our office a call anytime. We are always happy to schedule free consultations or answer any questions you may have about our multidisciplinary pediatric therapy services.

children and autism
Better Speech and Hearing Month: How Our Therapists Support Children with Autism
Better Speech and Hearing Month: How Our Therapists Support Children with Autism 1000 667 PTN Chicago

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month (BSHM), and that feels like the perfect time to discuss how our therapists support children with speech and language disorders, particularly children on the autism spectrum.

At Pediatric Therapy Network, our team specializes in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech and language therapy. Children with autism often benefit from each of these therapies, but speech therapy can often be the most transformative for families. When a child is able to clearly express their thoughts, feelings, and wishes to their parents for the first time, that is a truly magical moment.

Since 1927, our nation has celebrated Better Speech and Hearing Month (BSHM) to raise public awareness that over fourteen million Americans struggle with a hearing, speech, language, voice, and/or swallowing disorder, and many of those affected are children. Over fifty pairs of muscles in our mouths and throats must work together so that we can chew, swallow, and speak. It’s very easy to take those processes for granted. Recognizing what a gift clear communication is and helping as many people as possible enjoy the benefits of better speech and hearing are what this month is all about.

Better Speech for Children with Autism

Our physical, occupational and speech therapists in Chicago work with all sorts of children to help them communicate more clearly. With children on the autism spectrum in particular, speech therapy can take many different forms, depending upon the severity of the child’s condition.

For example, some children with autism are able to speak clearly and actually enjoy speaking with a variety of people. But these same children sometimes have difficulty recognizing and understanding social cues and body language. They may need help understanding when it’s ok to touch other people, how to be gentle, and what sorts of things are appropriate to say in certain situations. This sort of behavioral therapy can involve speech therapy, occupational therapy, and sensory integration therapy in combination with one another.

At the other end of the spectrum, some children with autism are unable to speak at all. In these cases, a speech therapist can work with the child and their caregivers to create a system of communication that will help the child be understood. An appropriate system might include a combination of sign language and picture boards, known as a picture exchange communication system, that the child can point to in order to indicate wants and needs.  Research has shown that using these types of systems can actually help a child learn to communicate verbally.

One of the most important things to remember when working with a child with autism is that they are a unique individual, just like each of us. Therefore, every child with autism – and indeed, every child with a speech, language, or hearing disorder – should be met on their own terms using therapies that are customized to their specific needs, wishes, and interests.

To learn more about Better Speech and Hearing Month, or to schedule a consultation with our Chicago speech therapists and/or occupational therapists, contact our team today!

occupational therapy and autism
How Our Occupational Therapists Support Children with Autism
How Our Occupational Therapists Support Children with Autism 1000 750 Triston Kee

Being a parent is never easy. It comes with its own rewards and challenges, and those rewards and challenges can be significantly amplified when you have a child with autism. Fortunately, many children on the autism spectrum have a legally protected right to occupational therapy through public schools, and many more can receive fully covered private occupational therapy through health insurance and federal and state programs. This therapy can be incredibly helpful for both the children and their parents.

Occupational therapy focuses on helping people perform everyday activities that are needed to get by. People recovering from injuries, dealing with mental illness, and people with developmental delays can all benefit from occupational therapy.

In the context of autism, occupational therapy can be an important tool for gaining skills that might come more readily to children who aren’t on the autism spectrum. These skills can include learning to play with other children, learning to listen to instructions, communicating basic needs, and feeding, bathing, and dressing oneself.

In our Chicago pediatric therapy practice, we regularly work with families who are affected by autism. The process starts with assessment. An initial assessment can include discussion with the parents and teachers about behavior patterns, observed problem areas, any diagnosed medical conditions, and questions and concerns. The goal is to determine where the biggest concerns lie and to create an intervention plan that will work for both the child and the family.

Meeting Children and Families Where They’re At

When working with kids with autism, we like to meet with them in environments where they feel most comfortable to help reduce stress, encourage positive associations, and make the whole process easier for everyone. We’ll often work with children in their homes, back yards, or even favorite local parks.

Specific therapies that can be helpful for children with autism often start with identifying any underlying sensory issues and creating games or routines that help address those issues. An estimated 80% of children with autism have sensory processing issues, which means that these children have trouble filtering out sounds, sensations, and/or sights that overwhelm them. (Imagine listening to thumping music all day with a strobe light blaring in your vision, and you might begin to understand why some children with autism act out.) Understanding what sensory issues may be at play makes it easier to address those issues with tools like weighted blankets, massage, and soft tag-free clothing that help children feel more relaxed and at ease in their own skins.

Working with the family is also an important part of occupational therapy for children with autism. As a parent, caretaker, or sibling, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed and have trouble empathizing with certain behaviors. An occupational therapist can help by showing the whole family how to incorporate play therapy and more positive responses into their existing routines at home.

If you’re looking for occupational therapy in Chicago for your child, please give our office a call. We’d be happy to answer any questions and provide more information and resources.

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